LR Jay

John Jay is shown on an ATV on his farm near Seymour in February 2006, shortly after being named The News-Gazette's 2005 Farm Leader of the Year. Jay also served for years in Mahomet Township government, as chief of the Cornbelt Fire Protection District and as a Champaign County Board member.

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SEYMOUR — A former fire chief, Champaign County board member and News-Gazette Farm Leader has died.

“It is with great sorrow and sadness that we share the passing of former Chief John Jay,” the Cornbelt Fire Protection District posted Thursday on Facebook. “Chief Jay served the Cornbelt Fire Protection District with care, compassion and dedication from 1971 to 2011 while serving as Chief from 1981 to 2011. He will be greatly missed.”

Jay also served on the county board from 2003 to 2017, when he stepped down for health reasons.

Jay, 77, died Thursday. Former county treasurer and fellow Republican John Farney noted that Jay had been in a nursing home for several years as his health declined.

Sadorus farmer and former county board member Jon Schroeder said Jay was “one of the first guys to welcome me” on the board.

“You knew where John stood,” Schroeder said. “He was a straight-up Republican. Sometimes I wouldn’t vote the Republican way, and I’d get the stink eye. But that was fine.

“He was decisive — some maybe thought too rigid — but that’s the way John was. ... John didn’t back down from what he believed was right.”

In addition to his service on the county board and with the fire department, Jay served Mahomet Township for decades as a clerk, trustee and supervisor.

“I’m a Champaign County boy,” Jay told The News-Gazette when his peers chose him as the 2005 News-Gazette Farm Leader. He said he hadn’t been on vacation since 1962.

“I’m a world traveler. Once, I went south of Tolono,” he joked.

He also served in the 1970s on the board of the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“He was all-business pretty much all the time,” Schroeder said. “He’ll be missed.”

A graduate of Central High School, he got his start farming after his grandfather retired, and when he began farming for another family who owned ground in Hensley Township.

Through the years, he grew wheat, corn and soybeans, and for a while, he raised Berkshire gilts, a breed of hogs.

He was married to Sunny Jay.

“It’s going to be a big loss,” Schroeder said. “He was well-known in the Mahomet community.”